Today I taught the most boring lesson I have ever taught in my teaching career. What accentuated the boredom was the forced attention the students gave me. They forced themselves to focus on my words and drawings for an hour. No talking, no rowdiness, just forced attention. It was a weird victory. They were controlling themselves to engage with something not worthy of their engagement. Thats not what I want. And the results? About half the class got the concept with the rest just feeling exasperated.
I want to take note of my response because it felt right. While they were lined up waiting to go out for lunch, I apologized to them for the bad lesson. I commended them for their attention and admitted their frustration was valid because the lesson was poorly designed. They stood silent, staring at me. One student timidly replied, "It's okay, Mr. Fereday." Broke my heart.
I spent lunch redesigning the lesson. It had been on equivalent fractions. I made up a quick template, cut some construction paper, and picked them back up. The new lesson involved them designing/coloring a strip of paper that had been partitioned into different fractions, all equalling one whole. After they spent a good amount of time designing theirs, they cut up their whole, then exchanged pieces with others. The exchanges had to be the same size (equivalency). They then took their new whole and glued it onto a piece of construction paper, to be marked up tomorrow.
The second lesson was more dynamic, perceivably enjoyable, and seemingly significant. We had a great class discussion with evidenced understanding of how fractions relate to others. What made it better was the creativity, the interaction, and the reality of being able to see that two one-sixteenths equaled one-eighth because they both created shapes of the same size.
Why didn't I start with that? Because I wasn't considering how to best meet my students where they were. Instead, I was asking them to meet me where I was. It was easier to just talk and draw pictures, ask at the end, "So, do you get it?" then hand them the problem set. I refused to care for them. Nel Noddings argues that educational care, displayed by assessing the student's needs, then meeting them in their need, is crucial if there is to be beneficial learning.
Selfishness. Pride. Laziness. Many things get in the way of effective education. We just have to be clear that those are faults on the teacher's end, not the student's. I hope we move away from blaming our student's inabilities and instead have the courage to examine our own practices honestly. I get it--its scary. Especially if you have been doing it one way for so long. I'm continually learning that flexibility, adaptation, and creativity are central qualities of great teachers. The foundation for those though, I'm realizing, is a brutal honesty with oneself--to expose every area of your practice and hold nothing as sacred, to have the courage to admit you were wrong and the same courage to try again.
I want to be honest.